2022 Identity theft statistics
Trends and statistics about identity theft
According to the Federal Trade Commission's “Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book,” the most common categories for consumer complaints in 2021 were:
- Identity theft
- Imposter scams (a subset of fraud)
- Credit bureaus, information furnishers and report users
“Government documents or benefits fraud” was the most prevalent type of identity theft case — more than 395,000 people reported that someone submitted a fraudulent government document under their name.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues in 2022, the FTC also continues to send out warnings of scams targeting Americans working and studying from home.
Similar warnings come from the business sector as well. “When you are working from home, you are not behind the castle walls anymore,” said John Hammond, a cybersecurity researcher at the security firm Huntress. “You are working with your own devices, away from the safe perimeter of corporate networks.”
This situation creates an easier and more lucrative path for attackers to launch ransomware. From 2019 to 2020, the U.S. experienced a 311% increase in victims, with a total payout of $350 million. Global ransomware attacks then nearly doubled in 2021 compared with 2020, increasing by 93%, according to the NCC Group’s 2021 Annual Threat Report.
Sophos’ State of Ransomware report showed a similar trend, with 66% of the organizations surveyed seeing ransomware attacks in 2021. For context, only 37% of respondents reported that they were hit by ransomware attacks in 2020. Experts believe one important contributing factor to the popularity of this kind of attack is the number of people still working from home.
The FTC continues to advise consumers to be wary of cybercriminals exploiting coronavirus fears to steal personally identifiable information (PII). Financial information and medical information are especially susceptible right now.
Register for the free FTC Consumer Alerts blog to keep up with recent tips, advice and scams.
Cybersecurity and COVID-19
According to the FTC, fraudsters are still at work creating scams perpetuating virus-related fear. Texts and robocalls concerning vaccines, COVID-19 cures and antibody tests are prevalent. Some scammers are even impersonating FTC staff to tempt people with nonexistent awards or funds related to the pandemic.
The U.S. Department of Justice shut down hundreds of bogus websites in the first year of the pandemic, but plenty are still active. These sites are often disguised as government agencies or humanitarian organizations and promise coronavirus tests, relief payments or outright cures.
They look legitimate, so it’s easy to click, but a click provides hackers the means to start phishing email campaigns and implant malware, all in an attempt to get personal and private information.
For example, a link that seems like it should lead you to a map of “COVID-19 cases near me” could infect your phone or computer with spyware or ransomware. Remember to visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or World Health Organization for safe, accurate information about coronavirus trends and statistics.
According to the U.S government, the IRS and Equifax, common COVID-19-related scams in 2021 included:
- Economic impact payment theft
- Scammers impersonating government officials
- Delivery scams
- Fake COVID testing, vaccine and treatment scams
- Unemployment benefits fraud
- Fake charities made to look like real charities that deal with the COVID-19 pandemic
5 cybersecurity tips for working from home
Now that more Americans are working from home indefinitely, we asked the ConsumerAffairs Information Security team for some tips on how to stay safe online.
- Secure your home network: Strong passwords and encryption are the best ways to secure your home network. Change your default administrator password before a hacker discovers you've left it set to the manufacturer’s default. Use WPA2 or WPA3 encryption so hackers can’t read the information you send. For more guidance, read about securing your wireless network.
- Limit access to your work device: Avoid giving anyone an opportunity to view confidential material without your authorization. Be sure to shut down or lock your work computer when you aren’t around. It’s too easy for friends and family to accidentally erase, modify or infect information on your device.
- Be careful where you click: Always hover over links before you click them to make sure the hyperlink is the same as the link-to address. Be extra cautious about emails from unknown people, especially if they seem random, illogical or threatening.
- Be skeptical of job offers: Cybercriminals use bogus employment posts to trick people into money laundering schemes (“money mules”) and collect their PII or financial information. Remote freelancers could be especially vulnerable.
- Protect your devices: If you haven’t already, ensure that your antivirus and anti-malware software is up to date.
Identity theft trends in 2022
In its 2021 Annual Data Breach Report, the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) reported that 1,862 data compromises occurred in 2021, breaking the previous record of 1,506 set in 2017.
According to a subsequent Data Breach Analysis from the ITRC, there were 14% more reported data compromises in the first quarter of 2022 than in the first quarter of 2021. This is the third year in a row during which the number of overall data compromises increased in comparison to the previous year’s initial quarter.
“The fact the number of breach events in Q1 represents a double-digit increase over the same time last year is another indicator that data compromises will continue to rise in 2022 after setting a new all-time high in 2021,” Eva Velasquez, President and CEO of the ITRC, stated on the organization’s website. “It is vital everyone continues to practice good cyber-hygiene, businesses and consumers, to help reduce the amount of personal information flowing into the hands of cyberthieves.”
Phishing and ransomware remain the top root causes of data compromises. The health care, financial services, manufacturing/utilities and professional services sectors experienced the most compromises in the first quarter of 2022.
Some of these attacks have become national news and impacted major companies. Although these breaches may not directly target consumers, they do affect their daily lives.
Cyberattacks are more ambitious
According to the CrowdStrike 2022 Global Threat Report, e-crime groups are still the primary source of attacks, making up nearly half of all observed criminal cyberactivity in 2021.
However, there is a growing trend of targeted cybercrime, defined in the report as “state-sponsored intrusion activity that includes cyber espionage, state-nexus destruction attacks and generating currency to support a regime.”
Assaults on U.S. infrastructure
The infamous SolarWinds hack began in 2020 but had repercussions that carried into 2021, and this was followed by the Colonial Pipeline breach, signaling a larger trend of hackers targeting U.S. infrastructure.
The infamous SolarWinds hack began in 2020 but had repercussions that carried into 2021, and this was followed by the Colonial Pipeline breach, signaling a larger trend of hackers targeting U.S. infrastructure.
As a response to these growing threats, President Joe Biden issued an executive order on improving the country’s cybersecurity and earmarked $9.8 billion of the 2022 federal budget for civilian cybersecurity activities, such as the IT systems and networks used by the federal government. In this budget plan, the Department of Defense receives a separate $4.3 billion for its own cyber operations, and an additional $4.3 billion was allocated to providing local grants for private infrastructure that impacts the everyday lives of Americans.
Internet of Things threats are on the rise
In the first half of 2021, Internet of Things (IoT) devices saw more than twice as many cyberattacks as they had in the first half of 2020, according to the cybersecurity firm Kaspersky.
“IoT vulnerabilities have been discovered and exposed across many industries,” wrote Oleksii Tsymbal, Chief Innovation Officer at MobiDev. “These vulnerabilities threaten sensitive data as well as personal safety. Without a doubt, the Internet of Things is a prime target for hackers in 2022, and any organization that produces or uses these devices needs to be prepared.”
Just because IoT devices are small does not mean cybercriminals treat them as unimportant. The best advice is to update your devices continually and change passwords frequently.
Formjacking has been around for a while, but it's still in use
In 2021, cybercriminals still employed formjacking as a means to take in millions of dollars each month by hijacking credit card data from online payment forms. It pays to be vigilant when making purchases online by making sure you are familiar with the company you’re buying from.
Ransomware is a serious threat in 2022
Ransomware payouts increased dramatically in 2021, with one case reportedly causing the victims to pay out an astonishing $50 million. To incentivize the victim to pay, these cybercriminals use denial-of-service (DoS) attacks and threaten to sell or release sensitive data to the public.
Not only is there a rise in these types of attacks, but the FBI reports there are 100 ransomware variants making their way around the world.
New account fraud is alive and well
A study from Javelin Strategy & Research showed a 109% increase in new account fraud in 2021. This type of fraud generally works in one of two ways.
In the first method, cybercriminals might use stolen documents to set up new accounts. They then get the money and run, leaving the victim to face the consequences.
Alternatively, after they have set up a new account, cybercriminals sometimes behave for a year or so, remaining undetected. Then, after increasing credit limits or obtaining new credit cards because of their “stellar” payment history, they will max out the accounts and disappear.
Account takeovers are a major issue
Account takeover fraud is a type of identity theft in which hackers take control of a legitimate individual’s digital identity for financial gain.
According to a 2021 study, 43% of U.S. merchants claimed account takeover fraud accounted for over 10% of chargebacks, and separate research has reported that 22% of U.S. adults have been victims of account takeovers.
Deepfakes are getting more advanced
A single photograph and the right software allow a cybercriminal to create a fake but realistic image or video when overlaying that photograph with another image or video. This kind of impersonation is an up-and-coming form of fraud that is finding its way onto social media platforms. So, beware of fake photos and videos, especially on social media.
The potential to politically manipulate populations with the use of deepfakes on TV or on the internet could also lead to an increase in political instability across the globe.
Record-breaking cryptocurrency theft
In March 2022, Ronin Network was hacked and robbed of cryptocurrency worth $540 million at the time. The hackers got away with approximately 173,600 ethers (units of the widely used ethereum cryptocurrency) and over 25 million USDC (a cryptocurrency that is pegged to the U.S. dollar).
Based on the value of these cryptocurrencies at the time of the theft, this incident would be the second-largest cryptocurrency heist we know of. However, given the amount the stolen assets appreciated before the hack was discovered, many have identified this as the largest cryptocurrency theft ever.
Increased effort to solve the year 2038 problem
Similar to the Y2K problem, the 2038 problem is a bug that will affect the way computers store time stamps. Computer logic defines time stamps with the current date and time, minus the number of seconds that have passed since Jan. 1, 1970.
In 2038, the number of elapsed seconds will exceed the information that can be stored in a four-byte data type, meaning most computers will need an extra byte to preserve their timing systems.
For many, the 2038 problem is solved. Others sense that a solution is near and there will be no threat by the time 2038 arrives. Without a resolution, however, hackers will likely search for ways to exploit this bug.
Who is most at risk for identity theft?
Most identity thefts are crimes of opportunity. Identity thieves often target those who don’t regularly check for identity theft warning signs and are unlikely to report irregular activity on their credit reports. This means that several groups are especially vulnerable to identity theft.
Children and seniors
Everyone with a Social Security number is at risk for identity theft, but two demographics get targeted aggressively and often: the very young and the very old.
- Children are targeted because identity thieves can use a child’s Social Security numbers to establish a fraudulent “clean slate.” Identity theft experts recommend parents monitor their kids’ credit reports to check for identity theft as often as their own.
- Seniors are targeted most often over the telephone and through internet phishing scams. Some studies suggest that people become more trusting as they age, which explains why it’s more difficult for older adults to detect fraudsters.
Members of the military
While deployed, active-duty members of the armed services are particularly vulnerable to identity theft because they may not notice mistakes on their credit reports or receive calls from debt collectors regarding a fraudulent charge. According to FTC reports, military consumers are most affected by government documents or benefits fraud and credit card fraud.
- There were 17,407 total military consumer government documents or benefits fraud reports in 2021.
- There were 9,379 total military consumer credit card fraud reports in 2021.
- Military consumers’ reports of bank fraud increased by roughly 8.4% between 2020 and 2021.
- Military members are also increasingly affected by loan or lease fraud.
2021 military consumer loan or lease fraud reports
|Fraud type||Total reports||Difference from previous year|
|Apartment or house rented||334||-17%|
|Nonfederal student loan||370||-5%|
|Federal student loan||225||-34%|
|Real estate loan||310||-9%|
People who have previously been affected by identity theft are at a greater risk for future identity theft and fraud. “Three out of every ten people tell us this happened to them before and now they’re dealing with it again,” said the ITRC's Velasquez.
For more information about how victims of identity theft can protect themselves from future fraud, read about the identity theft recovery process.
Identity thieves can target the recently departed with information gleaned from public obituaries and access the deceased’s Social Security number through the Social Security Administration’s master files.
Stealing a dead person’s identity is commonly referred to as “ghosting.” Ghosting often goes unnoticed by surviving family members for months or years.
Where is identity theft most common?
The FTC collects reports from consumers on a range of marketplace experiences and stores them in a secure online database. FTC statistics also include reports from other organizations, including federal, state, local and international law enforcement agencies. Out of over 5.7 million reports last year, slightly more than 25% were related to identity theft.
According to the FTC, in 2021, Rhode Island had the highest rate of identity theft reports per capita, but Texas had the highest total number of reports overall.
Identity theft statistics by state
|Rank & state||Reports per 100,000||Total reports|
|1. Rhode Island||2,857||30,270|
|8. New York||563||109,466|
|17. New Jersey||359||31,857|
|18. South Carolina||343||17,642|
|22. North Carolina||289||30,318|
|26. New Mexico||220||4,611|
|40. New Hampshire||162||2,205|
|41. West Virginia||159||2,845|
|44. North Dakota||131||999|
|50. South Dakota||76||673|
Top 10 metropolitan statistical areas for identity theft reports
|Rank & MSA||Reports per 100,000||Total reports|
|1. Providence-Warwick, RI-MA||1,981||32,176|
|2. Lawrence, KS||1,779||2,175|
|3. Topeka, KS||1,548||3,591|
|4. Wichita, KS||1,378||8,825|
|5. Lafayette, LA||1,212||5,931|
|6. Baton Rouge, LA||1,184||10,126|
|7. Tuscaloosa, AL||1,153||2,907|
|8. Manhattan, KS||1,062||1,384|
|9. Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI||975||92,239|
Identity theft terms
The better people understand identity theft, the more equipped they are to protect themselves. Our identity theft glossary below is regularly updated to include the most recent identity theft terms in the news.
- Account takeover: An account takeover is when a fraudster uses personal information to obtain products and services. Credit card fraud is the most rampant, but skimming and phishing are also common types of account takeovers.
- Anti-virus: Anti-virus software runs continuously in the background of a computer and scans for viruses, worms and malware every time the user accesses a website or downloads anything.
- Bait and switch: A bait and switch attack is when a hacker buys advertising space on a webpage and then links the advertisement to a page infected with malware.
- Black hat hacker: All hackers are capable of compromising computer systems and creating malware, but black hat hackers use these skills to commit cybercrimes.
- Blockchain: A blockchain is a string of time-stamped digital records shared between multiple computers. If the data in one block changes, all subsequent blocks in the blockchain reflect the alteration and become invalid. Blockchains help prevent identity theft and fraud by making it difficult to tamper with the data in a block.
- Bot: Short for “robot,” a bot is an autonomous program that interacts with computer systems in a way that appears or attempts to appear human. Hackers can use bots to mine for usernames and passwords used to commit identity fraud.
- Cookie theft: Cookie theft is when a cybercriminal makes copies of unencrypted session data and then uses that data to impersonate someone else.
- Credential cracking: Credential cracking describes the various methods — word lists, guessing and brute-force — cybercriminals use to obtain passwords. Credential cracking threats are why it’s important to create varied and complicated passwords for all accounts.
- Criminal impersonation: Someone commits criminal impersonation when they assume a fake or false identity, usually for political or financial gain.
- Cybersquatting: Also sometimes called domain squatting, cybersquatting is when a domain name is stolen or misspelled to attract users for exploitation or profit.
- Cryptovirology: Cryptovirology is the study of how cryptology is used to create dangerous malware.
- Data breach: A data breach is when private or confidential information is released to an untrusted environment. Cybercriminals can infiltrate a data source physically or remotely bypass network security to expose passwords, banking and credit data, passport and Social Security numbers, medical records and more.
- Dark web: The dark web, also known as the deep web or invisible web, is a part of the internet that’s not accessible through standard search engines such as Google or Bing. It's often accessed through Tor Browser software, which keeps visitors anonymous and untraceable. It’s not illegal to be on the dark web, but many illegal transactions occur on the dark web (such as buying credit card or Social Security numbers).
- Denial-of-service attack: A denial-of-service (DoS) attack potentially causes a victim’s server or network to become overwhelmed with traffic, resulting in a denial of service to legitimate traffic. At this point, the victim’s data is also locked or is under threat of a leak. The victim is pressured to pay to stop the attack and regain control of their data.
- Distributed denial-of-service attack: A distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack uses a network of distributed computers to direct junk traffic at the targeted website.
- Encryption: Encryption is a way to scramble data using computer algorithms to prevent unauthorized access to data or sensitive information.
- Firewall: In computing, a firewall is a software program that blocks unauthorized users from getting in without restricting outward communication.
- Formjacking: Formjacking is when a hacker infiltrates an e-commerce checkout page to steal credit card information. It's similar to ATM skimming for the internet age.
- Ghosting: In the context of identity theft, ghosting refers to when someone steals the identity of a dead person.
- Grey hat hacker: Grey hat hackers’ ethics are somewhere between black and white hat hackers. Grey hat hacking involves illegal cyberactivity, but the hacker often reports vulnerabilities to the system’s owner and requests a fee in exchange for the information — if a system's owner does not comply with their request, the grey hat hacker usually exploits the newly discovered cybersecurity vulnerability.
- Honeypot: A honeypot is a decoy target used to mitigate cybersecurity risks or get more information about how cybercriminals work.
- Identity cloning: Identity cloning is a type of identity theft in which a fraudster assumes someone else’s identity and attempts to live under that assumed identity.
- Identity score: Similar to a credit score, an identity score is a system that gauges an individual’s data for legitimacy.
- Imposter scam: Imposter scams involve a fraudster posing as a different person for financial or political gain. Usually, the imposter tricks others into giving them money through email, over the phone or via online dating services.
- Internet of Things: The Internet of Things, or IoT, describes the interconnectedness of all devices that access WiFi, including cell phones, cameras, headphones and an increasing number of other objects, including washing machines and thermostats.
- Keylogger: A keylogger is a computer program that records a person’s keystrokes to obtain confidential data.
- Malware: A portmanteau of “malicious” and “software,” malware describes any software created with the specific intent to cause disruption or damage. Trojans, bots, spyware, worms and viruses are all types of malware.
- Passive attacks: Any network attack where the system is monitored or scanned for vulnerabilities is considered “passive attack” because the targeted data isn’t modified or damaged.
- Pharming: Sometimes called “phishing without a lure,” pharming is a type of scam where malicious code is installed onto a device or server to misdirect users onto illegitimate websites.
- Phishing: Phishing is a popular type of internet scam in which fraudsters send emails claiming to be from a reputable company to trick individuals into revealing personal information. Phishing attacks more than doubled from 2019 to 2020, from 114,702 incidents to 241,324 incidents.
- Physical identity theft: Unlike wireless identity theft, physical identity theft requires an identity thief to be in close proximity to their target. Examples of physical identity theft include stealing a wallet or computer, dumpster diving and postal mail theft.
- Proxy server: A proxy server establishes a substitute IP (Internet Protocol) address identity. When you connect online, your computer’s IP address is transmitted to websites and establishes your location and may give other identifying details. Proxy servers allow users to connect to the internet anonymously and bypass blocked or restricted websites.
- PowerShell: An automated task framework by Microsoft, PowerShell can be embedded in applications to automate batch processing and systems management tools.
- Ransomware: Ransomware is a type of malware that threatens to expose or block an individual's or business’ data unless a ransom is paid.
- SIM swap scam: Sometimes called a port-out scam or SIM splitting, a SIM swap scam is a complex type of cell phone fraud that exploits two-factor authentication to access data stored on someone’s cell phone. Put simply, if a fraudster has your phone number, they can call your phone company and ask to have the number transferred to “your” new phone. The fraudster then has access to all of your accounts that use two-factor authentication.
- Skimming: Skimming is a type of credit card fraud in which the victim’s account numbers are copied and transferred to a counterfeit card.
- Smishing: Similar to phishing, smishing (or SMS phishing) is when someone attempts to mine sensitive information under a fake identity through text messages.
- Sockpuppet: Sockpuppetting is when a person assumes a false identity on the internet for the purpose of deception.
- Spoofing: A spoofing attack is when an illegitimate website falsifies data to appear as a trustworthy website to visitors.
- Spyware: Spyware is any software designed to gather data from an individual or enterprise. The four primary types of spyware are adware, Trojan horses, tracking cookies and system monitors.
- Synthetic identity theft: Synthetic identity theft is when a criminal combines stolen and fake information to create a new, fraudulent identity.
- System monitor: Much like it sounds, a system monitor is an application that surveils computer activity. System monitors usually run unnoticed and can record passwords, chats and emails, websites visited and other sensitive or identifying data.
- Tracking cookie: Websites use tracking cookies to gather and share data from their visitors. Unlike malware, tracking cookies won’t damage computer systems, but they can create privacy concerns. Google has stated it intends to eliminate the use of third-party cookies by the end of 2023.
- Trojan horse: Like its classical namesake, a Trojan horse is a type of malware disguised to appear like safe software. Cybercriminals use Trojans to access sensitive data and gain access to private systems.
- Waterhole attack: A waterhole attack occurs when a hacker targets a specific group or community. The hacker infects an individual within the targeted group with malware in an attempt to infect the entire group.
- Wireless identity theft: Also sometimes called contactless identity theft or RFID identity theft, wireless identity theft is committed by wireless mechanics. Examples of wireless identity theft include phishing and spoofing.
- Whaling: Whaling is a phishing attack that targets high-level employees within a company to steal confidential information or sensitive data.
- White hat hacker: Unlike a black hat hacker, a white hat hacker uses their ability to break computer networks or bypass security protocols for good rather than evil. White hat hackers are often employed by governments or companies to perform vulnerability assessments.
- Worm: A worm is a type of malware that self-replicates and spreads from computer to computer.
- Virus: Similar to worms, viruses make copies of themselves. The main difference between viruses and worms is that viruses require a host program to spread.
- Vishing: Like phishing or smishing, vishing is when an identity thief attempts to gain sensitive information over the phone.
- Zero-day exploit: A zero-day exploit is when cybercriminals target a software the same day weakness in that software is discovered and before a patch can be released to fix the vulnerability.
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